There’s one answer. It’s at the back. And don’t look.

As a lifelong learning enthusiast, I’m always looking to continue my education, and I’ve found some amazing resources to do so that are accessible and affordable (read “free”). And as a homeschooling dad, I’m really interested in ideas about the hows and whys of learning, because it informs me (as an accidental teacher) to be better able to help them with their education.

One of the reasons behind our choice to homeschool was our own experiences with the educational system in our country. I emphasize ‘system’, because that seems to be the problem: the system of education that asks us all to believe a common set of assumptions, which are pretty much outdated and untrue, and which wastes the potential of many children. The same scenario that existed for our parents and grandparents, as far as education was concerned, doesn’t exist anymore. For example:

“When we went to school, we were kept there by a story, which was, if you worked hard, and did well, and got a college degree, you would have a job.

Our kids don’t believe that.”

Our schools have become factories (or were always designed that way), our kids are the widgets they produce, and the widgets that fit the best into the current economic ‘matrix’ get the fast track to academia, white collar, and the upper middle class, etc. Those widgets that are different in any way are shunted off to the working class, to be the engine beneath the economic vehicle – the labor.

Now, obviously that’s the ultra simplified version, and better minds than mine have taken on the connection between the industrial revolution and our methods and systems of education, but the point is, our schools and our centers of learning need to be re-thought.

Here’s an example. Recently I came across an ‘Animate’ of a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson to the RSA, discussing changing the ways in which we look at education.

At around 8 minutes into this video, Robinson starts talking about divergent thinking as it relates to kids:

“Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value.

Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym but is an essential capacity for creativity.

It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways to interpret a question, to think laterally, to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one.”

Robinson relates that tests have been developed for this (an example question is “How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?”), and the scoring based on the number of answers each person came up with. An average person gets 10-15. Someone really good at divergent thinking comes up with 200. According to Robinson, in one such study, a group of 1500 kindergarteners took this, with a whopping 98% of them testing at “Genius” level in divergent thinking.

So the thinking goes that we all have this capacity, and it mostly deteriorates over time. I should repeat that: We all have this capacity, and it deteriorates over time.

But why? Referring to that study, in which those kids were re-tested over the next ten years:

“A lot of things have happened to these kids as they’ve grown up. A lot. But one of the most important things that has happened to them, I’m convinced, is that by now, they’ve become educated.

They’ve spent 10 years at school being told there’s one answer. It’s at the back. And don’t look. And don’t copy. Because that’s cheating.

Outside schools, that’s called collaboration.”

Check it out, it’s well worth the 12 minutes:

[I came across this through the BrainPickings email newsletter, which I highly recommend for interesting and thought provoking content. If you want to watch the full original talk given by Sir Ken Robinson to the RSA, check it out here: Changing Paradigms]

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

6 thoughts on “There’s one answer. It’s at the back. And don’t look.

  • This really is fascinating.

    My husband and I were watching The West Wing on dvd today, the episode with the big peace talks with Israelis and Palestinians. In a shot where the President’s secretary was checking the distance of the notepads from the edge of the table, you see that each person gets a pen, a pencil, and two notepads – one full size and one like 5×6 inches. I hypothesized that the smaller notepad was for passing notes, and husband agreed.

    I said we should go tell all the kids in high school right now that when you become an adult it’s commonplace to pass notes in a meeting. And I think, I might mention too how when you get to college, getting together to work on homework, talking to others about what your paper’s about, sharing your evidence, is considered a really great study/work strategy. I might mention that in many subjects there ARE no right answers, and especially in my area of study, to expect students to memorize a single interpretation of a text is considered very bad, ineffective teaching indeed.

    Why don’t we follow the same standards in elementary and high school??

  • Wow! Thanks for sharing this. Adding this to next week’s Sunday Surf. Isn’t that dazzling, and otherwise it does not come as such a shock… schooling is made to make people have a one-track mind, really. That’s one of the reasons we unschool.

  • Pingback: There’s one answer. It’s at the back. And don’t look. | Mike Lieberman (CanarsieBK)

  • Derek,
    thank you for this awesome article, and for sharing that youtube video.. I’m spreading it far and wide.. we all need to think about this.. what we’re doing is not working.. so why continue? Love homeschooling! our children will remain divergent thinkers.. leaders of a new tomorrow, caring for the planet and each other! thanks so much.

  • Hey, thanks for spreading this message. I recently watches those videos as well and several others by Ken. I to did a blog post on it and am glad to see others getting the world out.

    We need a revolution in education and the people have to demand it or it won’t happen.

  • You do have a point. The current education system needs a serious retooling. If nothing is changed, homeschooling will just snowball to the point that it will overtake the traditional system.


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